Irish cricketer renews Bay ties with U16 tour

A LONG cricket relationship between Muir College and Irish cricket is being renewed this week with a visit to Nelson Mandela Bay by the Leinster under-16 team. The team, managed by Leinster cricket development manager Brian O'Rourke, comprises players from a number of clubs in Leinster, and they will be playing against Grey High today and Muir tomorrow. The touring party then head to Johannesburg on Thursday to take part in the St Stithians Independent Schools Festival, which also includes Grahamstown school St Andrew's College. Muir and Cricket Ireland (Leinster branch) have forged an excellent relationship that has seen no fewer than 28 young Irish cricketers spend time at the Uitenhage school since 2003. The programme was established by Muir principal Bun Hopley and O'Rourke, and has seen a steady influx of Irish players visit the school during January-March each year. The Irish boys take advantage of their school "transition year" which allows them to engage in courses, obtain work experience or travel overseas to pursue sporting interests. In return, ex-Muir cricketers have been hosted in Ireland. Two Irish internationals – George Dockrell (2007) and Andrew Balbirnie (2006) – fondly recalled their time at Muir. "The standard over there was great," Dockrell said, "and bowling lots of overs in 'time cricket' really helped my game. "On that team we had Sisi Magala [EP Provincial team player], Ross Heynes and Shane Gates [EP age-group cricketer now playing rugby for the EP Kings]. Mr [Runeshan] Moodley was our coach and Mr Hopley was the school principal. He looked after us all very well. "I made some very good friends who I still keep in touch with, such as Shane Gates who I talk to and meet up whenever I'm back in Port Elizabeth. "I really enjoyed my time in Uitenhage and can say it was one of the best experiences I've had." Balbirnie recalls the harder pitches testing his technique on a weekly basis. "At the age of 16 it gave me a unique opportunity to play in conditions I was not used to," Balbirnie said. "Harder pitches and quicker outfields that would test my technique week in week out. "I stayed in the hostel with the boarders of the college and this was a wonderful experience in itself." O'Rourke, himself, is familiar with the South African cricket scene and is making his 11th trip to the country. His association goes back over 20 years when he spent six months working for Gauteng cricket and playing for Roodepoort in 1993. "Playing in the Premier league was an experience and easily the highest standard of the game that I have played," O'Rourke said. "We played against quality international bowlers like Hugh Page, Richard Snell and Stephen Jack, and batsmen like Mandy Yachad [Northern Transvaal] and SA great Daryll Cullinan. "I have returned on many occasions since then and it is great to meet up again with three special people and good friends in Runeshan Moodley [former Muir cricket coach] and Bryn Thomas and Wim Jansen from the St Stithians school."